Adam Devine brings the franchise back to life

In keeping with the franchise’s tendency to use song lyrics as gags, I have another confession to make: Perfect completely lost me. It started with a strong opening film in 2012 that was lighthearted and fun, but didn’t really need to continue beyond that. The second entry was usable, but largely forgettable. However, by the time we got to a third movie, everything that could be explored with the now-graduated Bellas had been largely exhausted. Pitch Perfect: Bumpers in Berlina spin-off television series centered on Adam DevinThe main character of Bumper Allen seems not to work. Not only did he also graduate, but the story thus far also seemed to lack compelling comedic ideas of what to do with Bumper himself.

It makes it all the more pleasant to be surprised that this series manages to be a lot of fun. A fish-out-of-water comedy that never takes itself too seriously, it sends Bumper overseas to Berlin after being called out by similar returning character Pieter Krämer (Flula Borg), which offers him a chance of success that has not materialized elsewhere. The hook is that Bumper is supposed to have become a huge hit in Germany for a TikTok cover of “99 Luftballons”, which becomes something of a recurring gag that almost seems to be making fun of itself in that it’s apparently the only song that everyone knows in the country. Such is the idea behind this fantasy world where acappella performances are seemingly extremely popular and capable of attracting mass attention to those who perform them. Pieter himself was such a performer in the earlier films, but he’s now become a musical director who takes on Bumper as a client with the promise of grooming him for a grand finale performance at the German Unity Day concert. It’s a bit by the numbers, though a steady stream of jokes and gags ensure it keeps going.

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Putting it all together is an ensemble cast that includes modern familyit is Sara Hyland as Heidi, a talented singer-songwriter who currently works as Pieter’s assistant, and Lera Abova as Pieter’s music producing sister, Thea, who is currently much more successful than him. There is an antagonist in Jameela Jamilis Gisela, however, much like this year She-Hulk, it is mostly relegated to the background to create conflicts here and there. This does not doom the case, as the main target is the motley crew of Bumper and company. All fair to skip to the next track as there are riffs on their own version of Hot Ones, albeit sour pickles instead of wings, and an extended track involving scene stealing Udo Kier it is simply delicious. While Devine is the one who often takes center stage, some of the best jokes come from those around him. In particular, while he had very little presence in the film series, Borg is a solid comedic force to build on. Although he is perhaps best known to many for his brief but memorable presence in the recent The Suicide Squad or when he jokes around with Conan on talk shows, it’s nice to see him really flex his comedic muscles here. He engages in such ridiculous lines that you can’t help but laugh.

The part of this series that still struggles to find a comedic purpose are many musical interludes. While there are plenty that are quite funny in the way they poke fun at themselves, there are several points where they start to drag or just feel pressured. Even though it’s built into the core of this franchise, many of the songs start to feel boring and mostly based on referential humor that becomes a closed loop once the recognition wears off. There’s definitely a part of the show that seems to want to leave that acappella component behind to just be more focused comedy, but it gets stuck in twists that seem too direct when the rest of everything else is pretty silly. Worse, many performances are often static and without any sense of energy, which can derail the comedic momentum of everything else. It can certainly be fun to see a song recontextualized, but it’s just not as engaging compared to some of the more clever comedic moments that make up the rest of the series. Following Bumper as an American idiot overseas who has no idea what he’s doing or what everything is like in this country is among the best bits. Bumpers in Berlin is by no means the most insightful political commentary, but when he discovers that there is in fact robust health care in Germany that is available to everyone, it offers a hint of a sharper skewer that lies among the growing absurdity.

That being said, the show shines when it leans into the silliness of it all. While it’s a stretch to call it an outright parody, there’s a degree of self-awareness in everything that’s almost whimsical. This makes for a comedy that’s all about breaking the conventions of underdog history, even as it leans into them simultaneously. When a character remarks that “not all problems can be solved by being perky and optimistic,” it serves as a nod to the audience that indicates they know how these types of stories typically go. It then follows a similar path, showing how our brave characters will always find a way, but it’s cheeky enough that it never loses the overriding comic thread of how playful it all is.

Does the series need more episodes beyond these? The story certainly seems set up for more, but it feels like it would be fine on its own. Of course, the mere fact that everything works most of the time is a surprise, so maybe there could be more to come. For the moment, Bumpers in Berlin delivers where it counts in an unlikely expansion of a series that proves there’s still fun to be had in this franchise.

Evaluation: B

You can watch all six episodes of Pitch Perfect: Bumpers in Berlin on Peacock from November 23.

Adam Devine brings the franchise back to life – CNET – ApparelGeek